• WisPolitics

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

 8:39 AM 

Abele, Larson spar over private security, funding for transit, parks, cultural facilities

Milwaukee County Exec Chris Abele Monday defended his use of a private security firm, recounting a previously undisclosed incident in which, he said, a man kicked open his home's front door and knocked down his daughters' babysitter.

Abele said the man repeatedly asked her if she was Abele's wife, as papers filled with "crazy" writings spilled out of his arms. He said afterward that happened a couple of years ago, and his campaign did not immediately release more details.

The incident came up during Monday's first post-primary debate between Abele and challenger Chris Larson following a question about public safety spending.

Larson, a Dem state senator from Milwaukee, said he would do away with the "Hollywood-style security," a reference to Abele's detail from a California firm that has also protected such figures as former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and actress Jennifer Lawrence.

Abele -- a millionaire who pays the firm's four-figure bill -- said security "is not a joke." He noted that both he and Larson have young children and said that if Larson ever needed security, Abele would help him get it.

Larson replied he had received a threat to burn down his house, but that he would be satisfied, like Abele's predecessors, with protection from law enforcement officers. Afterward, Larson said the threat came via Twitter during the tense 2011 debate over collective bargaining powers for public employees -- a time when Republican Gov. Scott Walker and other lawmakers also received death threats -- and it was reported to Capitol police.

The candidates, who meet in the April 5 general election, also differed sharply on funding for the Milwaukee County Transit System and for parks and cultural facilities.

Larson noted that, as a supervisor, he had supported a 2008 advisory referendum in which voters backed increasing the 0.5 percent county sales tax to 1.5 percent to wean parks, transit and paramedics off the county property tax levy. The Legislature never granted the county that authority, but Larson said he still wanted to push for it.

Abele said the sales tax was too regressive and that he would instead lobby the state for more aid for transit and other county programs. He added, "Every time we tax ourselves, we let the state off the hook" for cutting aid to local governments.

Otherwise, the debate followed the same script as the campaign to date, with Abele touting his five-year record of fiscal management and Larson attacking the incumbent for grabbing more power at the expense of the County Board.

Abele said his success in reducing the county's structural deficit and debt service payments had helped avoid service cuts and limit tax increases. Larson said the focus on reducing debt should not obscure the need to address deferred maintenance, such as the deterioration that forced the Mitchell Park Domes to close for repairs.

Larson said he would seek to roll back the most recent expansions of Abele's power: to sell county land not zoned for parks, without board approval, and to name a commissioner to take over failing Milwaukee public schools.

Abele noted the GOP-controlled Legislature and Walker approved his increased authority. He has previously said he would support rezoning parks now otherwise zoned and that his education commissioner wouldn't take over any schools.

Overall, Abele said voters "don't have to speculate about my ability" to manage county finances, and that he would continue to focus on "allies and solutions, not fights and enemies."

Larson accused Abele of an "election-year conversion" after seeking to increase his own power and privatize or sell off county assets. The challenger predicted he would win April 5 because the voters "don't just want false promises when it's an election year."

-- By Larry Sandler
For WisPolitics.com

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